Archive: Psychotherapy

Non-Striving, one of the 7 pillars of mindfulness

Non-Striving-one-of-the-7-pillars-of-mindfulness
The pillars of Mindfulness are Buddhist principles that help us live in beauty and peace.  One of them is non-striving.

I’m the kind of person who is always striving. Stiving to learn something new.  Striving to figure things out.  Striving to get somewhere. Striving involves incredible focus on whatever it is we are striving for,  which means little or no focus on anything else. That focus is on the future – some plan or future goal we’ve developed that is important to us.

If you’re like me, then you know that this practice and habit of striving means we miss a lot that is happening before our eyes. We miss that moment of tenderness or beauty; of connecting to that person beside us and with the world around us.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ll continue to strive for what gives my life meaning and purpose. Striving has its place. But striving sometimes hides dissatisfaction with what is, and can be a way to avoid what we think is, because unless we take a moment to look around us, whatever we believe is simply a thought in our minds.

This last point is important because we have such a huge capacity for self-deception. When I focus on something that engages me – say going for a hike in beautiful surroundings, or participating in a self-improvement course – I can lull myself into believing I’m into self-growth.  But if this is done at the expense of what I need to attend to – like, for instance, a failing relationship – then it’s really me striving to avoid seeing what I need to see.

So, if you’re like me, perhaps it’s time to take a breath, and simply look.

I first read of the 7 pillars of mindfulness in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on mindfulness Full Catastrophe Living. These pillars are Buddhist principles that help us be present and mindful in our everyday living. The 7 meditations I offer to anyone who signs up on my website www.thehjoyofliving.co are based on these, and I use them in my own meditation practice.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Fidget Spinning

Fidget Spinner

Have you noticed when you get anxious wanting to find a diversion that lets your mind keep going and that keeps you semi-occupied at the same time? I think that’s why solitaire is so popular – it’s kind of mindless and at the same time, engaging.  It helps us use up some of the nervous energy we generate when we’re stressed or heading into overwhelm.

What’s happening on Facebook and in anxiety support groups is the introduction of toys called Fidget Spinners and Fidget Cubes.  These gadgets are supposed to help people calm down through diversion – because playing with these gadgets requires a certain amount of focus and attention. Even if a person doesn’t manage to calm down, they may at least contain their anxiety by engaging in Fidget Spinning.

Fidget spinners are three pronged devices that can be hand-held, with a centre bearing that, when pressed, makes the spinner spin. Sounds incredibly simple, and it is; so simple, in fact, that there are disputes among many inventors who simultaneously came up with these toys – virtually all in response to their own need to control stress.

Even though they’ve been around for a few years, they really only gained in popularity when kids started using them and trading them. That’s when teachers began to notice both their benefits and problems. Yes, they served as a distraction, reducing anxiety, but they also became an addictive pastime – much like solitaire.  Solitaire isn’t addictive if what we’re doing engages us; but give us endless lists of things to do that are gruelling, and solitaire becomes incredibly attractive.  Just so with Fidget Spinners – to the point that schools are considering banning them.

The interesting questing for me is: How can these and similar devices be used to help someone through stress, and when are they simply adding to the problem?  I believe the answer to both parts of this question lie in what it is that’s causing the stress.  If it’s something important to us and we’re nervous about the end result, then distracting that kind of nervousness with something like a fidget spinner seems like a good thing.  If, however, we are engaged in tasks that don’t inspire and that generate in us a sense of powerlessness – like, for me, having to sit through hours of algebra – forced to do something I have no interest in just because someone else thinks I should do it.  In that case, eventually the spinner is gong to take over, and it isn’t such a good thing.

In my own life, I play solitaire when I watch TV; sometimes what I’m watching is engaging and worthwhile for me; and sometimes it’s interspersed with what I don’t love – like violence. It’s easy to block out the violence if I have something like solitaire to turn to.

Fidget spinners may be new, but the idea isn’t. Think of worry beads, or balling up Kleenex and endlessly rolling it between thumb and finger, or chewing gum, or knitting.  The list is probably as long as you want to make it. Bottom line: fidget spinning may prove more useful in highlighting a pre-existing problem than in solving one.  Either way, it’s worth considering.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Mindful Intimacy

Mindful Intimacy

Almost a year ago, I attended a conference on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, sponsored by Harvard University.  I was going through one of my all-too-frequent periods of physical challenges, so all I could manage was to get myself to the lectures in-between resting in my room.  Fortunately it rained a lot, and the friend I’d planned on meeting had to go elsewhere, so resting in the cool darkness of my room was perfect! I’m glad I made the effort; the quality of the talks and their speakers made it all worth-while.

One of the speakers was Willa Miller, Founder and Spiritual Director of Natural Dharma Fellowship in Boston.  She began with a stretch, and then a meditation, so that we could be supported in being present for what she wanted to share with us. A beautiful, and highly meaningful way to share her talk on Mindful Intimacy with us.  This isn’t, after all, a topic that can be truly appreciated without bringing the audience along. She lead more meditations during her time up there (I can’t recall how long she was up there – it felt like no time, but was probably an hour and a half). With each one, she spoke of and demonstrated the intimacy of solitary meditation.

How so? In 5 ways, we all shared the moment:

  1. Learned from a teacher – Ms. Miller was up there, leading us all one meditation at a time – something we all shared in as a result;
  2. Our relationship to the breath – since this was her focus, it was also ours;
  3. Our relationship with the present moment – there is no intimacy without presence, and being mindful is all about being present;
  4. With our immediate senses – similar to breathing together, we were, each of us, aware of hearing her voice and feeling our breathing;
  5. With our mind’s content – because she was teaching us as we meditated, we had something to focus on and think about, while at the same time, being fully present.

This kind of meditating practice is often called Relational Meditation. Its surprisingly intimate, and perhaps for this reason, energizing.  I left that lecture feeling well for the first time in a week.  I’m not claiming it was the meditation, but we do know that connection heals; that connection is, indeed, essential for human growth and wellness.

And so I leave you with this suggestion:  experiment with meditating by yourself and in groups, then note how you feel energetically.  I’d love to hear your feedback, and invite you to leave a comment below.

Common Trauma Misconceptions

I’ve been speaking this month, quite often, about trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There are many misconceptions associated with PTSD both in the medical field and everyday society.

Rashish, a healthy living website, recently published the story about Rebecca, a 23 yr. old who never suspected she had issues related to trauma. The article states, “Before her diagnosis this past summer, Rebecca says she didn’t know much about PTSD. “I knew it was something serious that veterans dealt with, but I never had a reason to research the subject,” she says. “I thought there was some scale or level of degree of trauma that caused PTSD. I didn’t think my issues were comparable to a veteran’s, so I thought I was just weak.” Rebecca had struggled with depression and anxiety before, but she knew she was dealing with something else.” You can read the entire piece here: http://www.qconline.com/radish/treating-trauma-overcoming-ptsd-myths-and-misconceptions/article_629f5c70-4c53-590b-ab56-4fa1ad1e830b.html

I think what bothers me about misconceptions of trauma and PTSD is that we always think of someone ready to “snap” versus the daily struggle. Most people with trauma are like Rebecca. They feel anxious. They have panic attacks for that they think as “no reason”. They feel like laying down in bed all day or they can’t bare to stay home, they have to stay busy.

People deal with trauma in many different ways, often thinking they are fine- and often suffering from a multiple of subtle symptoms. Not everyone with trauma and PTSD is sitting at home, shaking, hallucinating, are being directed to commit a crime. Those cases are very rare. In fact, trauma victims are usually so confused about the subtle ways they feel, they end up being more of a harm to themselves than society- which is where I feel the misconceptions are birthed.

Another misconception is the cause of trauma or PTSD, which is often (and correctly) related to sexual abuse as a child or war. Well, these are not the only causes. Falls or sports injuries, Surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life),
the sudden death of someone close, a car accident, the breakup of a significant relationship, a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, or the discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition can all lead to the same feelings of anxiety, depression and withdrawal.

So, what are some of the more subtle emotional and psychological symptoms of trauma or PTSD:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
    Anger, irritability, mood swings
    Guilt, shame, self-blame
    Feeling sad or hopeless
    Confusion, difficulty concentrating
    Anxiety and fear
    Withdrawing from others
    Feeling disconnected or numb
    Insomnia or nightmares

Of course, this isn’t the complete list. People respond to different circumstances with a combination of these symptoms or symptoms not listed above. I can tell you that if you have been feeling anxious or depressed for the past three months and you find a life event on the causes I listed above, you should start to speak with someone about not only how you’re feeling, but how you’re coping.

I also offer free consultations and a free 7-Day Mediation program, which you can find here: http://thejoyofliving.co/uncategorized/7-days-of-free-meditation-work/

Post-traumatic growth – how resilience can recharge your life

This is in honor of my friend and colleague Pat Comely  the other day and was reminded of her work with caregivers, and how critical that is; Pat helps caregivers build resilience into their lives after they begin to burn out.

Jane McGonigal talks about resilience in a unique way, arguing that games can do it for you. Games are her passion, and more importantly, she invented a game to help her battle depression when she was bed-ridden after a serious accident.

It’s a simple game, yet it worked so well for her that she put it out there for others and called it Superbetter. The response she received astonished and delighted her – from terminal cancer patients, people suffering from ALS, people who were in need of exactly this.

These players ended up feeling stronger and braver, better understood by their friends and family, and they even reported feeling happier even through many of them remained in pain.

The science behind what she and others experienced is called Post Traumatic Growth; it’s what happens to some people after experiencing a traumatic event who manage to use their trauma to get stronger and happier.

McGonigal looked at what trauma victims who grow through Post Traumatic Growth report and compared them to the 5 top regrets that the dying have.  They are pretty much directly opposite.

The 5 top regrets of the dying:

  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard;
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends;
  • I wish I’d let myself be happier;
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self; and
  • I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams instead of what others expected of me

5 top traits resulting from Post Traumatic Growth:

  • My priorities have changed, I’m not afraid to do what makes me happy;
  • I feel closer to my friends and family;
  • I understand myself better, I know who I really am now;
  • I have a new sense of meaning and purpose in my life; and
  • I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.

This is so encouraging! And it’s where resilience comes in. Resilience can be defined as a person’s ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity.  Scientists discovered that people who grow through experiencing trauma develop 4 specific kinds of resilience – physical, mental, emotional and social.

McGonigal suggested 4 kinds of activities anyone can do that, if done daily, can help us develop those resiliencies.

You can do all of them in less than 5 minutes.

  1. Either stand up and take 3 steps, or make fists and raise your arms above your head for 10 seconds. This creates physical resilience; the key is to move rather than stay still.
  2. Either snap your fingers 5 times, or count back by 7, starting at 100. This generates mental resilience because it demands focus, willpower and determination to complete the task, even though it’s really very small.
  3. Either find a window and look out, or find a window and look in (and if there aren’t any windows, google your favorite baby animals). This generates emotional resilience, provoking powerful positive emotions when they’re most needed. If we can experience 3 positive emotions to one negative one daily, our health dramatically improves.
  4. Either shake hands with someone, or send a message to a friend, gainingsocial resilience. We gain strength from our connection with friends, family and community, feeling grateful for those connections. Gratitude, especially when communicated by touch (like with a hand shake or hug), raises our levels of oxytocin, sometimes called the trust hormone.

One bonus from all this is, if daily practiced, these simple activities can increase our lifespan by 10 years.  She did the math, and if you’re interested, listen to her Ted Talk .

Resilience Art

Quote of the week

She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.
– Elizabeth Edwards

 

3 Signs You’re Depressed

You don’t have to sit in bed all day, wearing a worn out robe, to be depressed. There are many cases of “walking depression” among the general population. People tend to have a skewed view of depression, too. They think it causes you to sit in a dark room for hours on end without showering. While this can be true, the noted symptoms aren’t aligned with walking depression.

People who are truly depressed and functioning throughout life may not realize they are depressed because they are functioning throughout life. They may feel like they are going through the motions and faking it- when, in fact, they are walking around depressed.

Loss of interest is a sign of depression. Now, you may not love going to work everything – that doesn’t mean you’re depressed. But, let us say that you love to bake, and suddenly you don’t feel up to baking… well, this could be a sign. Not feeling engaged with activities you love to participate in can and may be a problem.

Anxiety is a sign of depression. Yes, anxiety can be its own diagnosis but it can also be a symptom of something bigger going on- like depression. Women tend to have more anxiety symptoms than man when it comes to depression. Men react differently. Research shows that in addition to irritability men may display symptoms not typically associated with depression, like escapist or risky behavior, substance abuse, or misplaced anger.

Emotional issues. Yes, if you’re happy and sad and then angry and then sad and then happy and then angry…. well, the fluctuation can be caused by depression. Don’t forget, depression does impact the chemicals within your brain and can cause issues when it comes to your emotions. You can be depressed without being in a state of flat sadness all of the time.

Interested in receiving more help and insight? Please contact me here: http://thejoyofliving.co/

The #1 Way to Stay Positive

Life is hard. Add in depression, anxiety, and so forth and it becomes very hard to stay positive. And, there is something to staying positive. People who are more positive have better outcomes, they are healthier, they have long-lasting relationships. While staying positive can be very hard for anyone dealing with life and health issues, it still is possible with effort.

I am asked all the time, “how do I remain positive?” Well, it isn’t easy, but there is a single trick that will get you moving in the right direction. Positive affirmations. Now, don’t smirk or think about the Mr. Smiley skit on Saturday Night Live. Positive affirmations really do work!

Even Entrepreneur magazine is talking about the power of positive affirmations within the business world, so imagine how they can work in your personal life. According to the magazine, ” As any politician or advertiser knows, the more often you hear a message, the more likely you are to believe it. The same goes for messages about who you are and what you are capable of doing. By repeating positive affirmations with conviction several times each morning, you are training your brain to believe them.”

I encourage you to make small, simple changes. The smallest step forward can lead to an incredible journey. Even if you say “It will get better”, you are headed in a better direction!

Stress- What NOT To Eat!

I do spend alot of time talking about how to stay stress-free or find the right therapist to help you work on environmental issues that cause stress, anxiety, etc. It isn’t often that I talk about food. I’m no nutritionist. This said, I recently had a lady come to me because she was having panic attacks. They just started and I couldn’t find any environmental change that was a pivotal stressor for the cause behind the attacks. Then I noticed it…

A large coffee from Starbucks. Each and every session. Black coffee sipped throughout the session. When I asked her if this was her first one, she said ‘no’ without much thought. I then asked what she was eating. Well, it started with a pastry and coffee in the morning. Sugar and caffeine. Lunch was a redbull and often nothing else. Followed by a few Cokes and then a nightcap coffee, she had dinner – which usually had an element of sugar. Do you see where I am going with this? Sometimes the most obvious answers aren’t so obvious.

Her case is one in a million. It was the sugar and the caffeine that were contributing to her mental health issues. Most of the time, however, it is our environment or genetics that cause mental health issues. This said, I’ve done some research and I’ve pulled an article from The Huffington Post on the top foods that can contribute to stress levels.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/07/worst-foods-stress_n_2773760.html

Enjoy!

Practice Being Kind

Most of us think of ourselves as victims of circumstances. We’re cranky because we woke up late since NBC has to air our favorite show past 10pm. We’re upset because “that lady” cut us off in traffic. We’re sad because life isn’t fair. When are we ever kind? Are we kind when someone does something for us and we feel obligated to be kind in return? Or are you naturally kind and naturally positive?

I hate to say it, but we tend to be more reactionary than proactive. We tend to be more negative than positive because we believe ourselves to be victims of our environment – not masters of it! Well, let today be the day you practice being kind. Yes, you have to actually practice it!

Here are a couple of tips to start your weekend off in the right direction. If you’re at work reading this, start now!

1. Hold the door open for everyone… Yes, everyone

2. Buy a random stranger coffee!

3. Find an elderly person you can help and take them to the grocery store or do their shopping for them.

4. Practice smiling and smile at everyone. Don’t frown, don’t look cross. Work on smiling.

5. Invite someone who doesn’t socially “fit in” at work out to dinner or lunch.

The point is to work on going out of your way for the only purpose of helping and benefiting someone else. It is the best way to practice kind meditation and help reduce your stress levels.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT (according to LifeHacker)

“In one interesting study conducted by the Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia, participants were asked to recall spending a small sum of money either on themselves or to help someone in need. Those who donated that sum to charity or as a gift remembered being much happier than when they had spent the money on themselves.

Researchers also found that once people got into the loop of being kind which was followed by a feeling of happiness, then they were more likely to do lots of other acts. It is a win-win situation. Psychologists call this the ‘helper’s high’.”

TIME; New Depression Treatment

I want to use today’s blog to cover the breaking news that Time magazine broke today.  Via its online edition, “One of the most common ways to treat for severe depression has been electroconclusive therapy (ECT), where electric currents are passed through the brain to trigger brief, intentional seizures to stabilize brain chemistry. New research published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests, however, that a new method—ultra-brief pulse right unilateral, or (RUL) ECT—may have fewer negative side effects, like confusion, and memory and heart problems. The study used data from 689 patients with a median age of 50 from six countries. “Our analysis of the existing trial data showed that ultra-brief stimulation significantly lessened the potential for the destruction of memories formed prior to ECT, reduced the difficulty of recalling and learning new information after ECT and was almost as effective as the standard ECT treatment,” saud Colleen Loo, professor at the University of New South Wales.”

WOW! ECT with fewer negative side effects. Well, depression is a complicated issue and can be caused by various life events as well as genetics. Some people truly are hardwired for depressive tendencies and the simple solution, like ECT, may not be applicable to everyone. In fact, it shouldn’t be.  Mental health issues will never have a blanket approach when it comes to complex issues, like depression, because it takes the human element out of treatment. We are people, not components.

While programs like my ‘Burning the Candle at Both Ends’ are very good for helping alleviate ordinary stress, these programs should be stepping stones or milestones- but not used when comprehensive treatment – like for severe depression- is needed.  So while today’s breaking news does offer hope for those battling with depression, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment option. The research and findings are still new and there are other ways to also help someone combat depression, like Gestalt therapy and addressing the here and now while also comforting yesterday.

Still have questions? You should! Let’s talk! Click here to setup a time to speak with me.